An Indian dance & music showcase in Durban by the South African Indian Dance Alliance (SAIDA) with support from the Indian Consulate in Durban has come under fire from local critics and artists.
The event showcased Bharata Natyam, Kathak, Traditional Folk Dances of India and contemporary & collaborative work. This was the first project under the dance forum of SAIDA, being the brainchild of Durban artist, Smeetha Maharaj.
The three day festival dubbed ‘Nritya Aangan’ was held at the Playhouse culminated to a high note with a seasoned South African Indian classical dance exponents. The main event was an international entourage that took to the stage on Saturday evening. The highlight feature was Shri Aniruddha S. Knight who is a classically trained Bharatha Natyam exponent who hails from Chennai and USA who was backed by live musicians from Chennai, India.
The local component showcased senior artists of South Africa in their solo presentations, by Kathak Manesh Maharaj, Seema Lala & Anusha Pillay from Johannesburg and Darshana Rama from Cape Town with Lliane Loots’s, ‘At the Feet of Kali’ and Verushka Pather & Vusi Makanya in ‘A Drum Beat’.
A series of workshops included in-depth discussions on the roots of Bharatha Natyam dance from the famed Natya Shastra by Cape Town based writer, historian & dancer Heather Parker.
Annirudha Knight expanded on legacy and personal association and family of the Devadasi system of India, while Vasugi Singh discussed the context of South African Bharatha Natyam style.
The horrible failure according to critics
The South African local artistes component of Bharata Natyam and Kathak dancers stole the show. The traditional invocation performance to Lord Ganesh ‘Siddhi Vinayakam’ by Darshana Rama was an excellent kick-starter.
Gauteng’s SVN Dance lead director, Anusha Pillay’s technical portrayal of the many manifestations of Goddess Ambal was well executed while another brilliant performance of the Shiva Keertanam by Seema Lala also of Gauteng was hailed as vibrant. However it was the Kathak dance performance by Manesh Maharaj’s Tarana, which stole the show.
The rest of the evening was summed up by this statement, ‘was a waste of a good Knight.’
The Mridangam performance by the father of Aniruddha, Douglas M Knight lacked vibrancy. The Mridangam is an indispensable accompaniment for Bharatanatyam. Though the ‘nattuvanar’ plays the cymbals and also verbally expresses the ‘sollu’-s the mridangist synchronizes the dancer’s movements to the jathi and correspondingly to the song as a thread in a garland.
The work of the nattuvanar and the mridangist may seem somewhat similar but the mridangist’s responsibility is complex.
A mridangam player is known as the most important accompanist in a Bharatha Nathyam recital and Knight Snr. performance was seen reverberating in “now and then” and had to often be prompted by his son as well as the vocalist had to get his thalam, tempo and nada together.
There is a wrong notion that mridangam playing for dance does not require expertise as everything is preset and practiced. This idea should be condemned as the dance mridangist need’s to be equally qualified and equipped like a Carnatic classical vocal mridangist, if not more.
The dance mridangist is expected to exhibit his knowledge and expertise within the limited framework of the time along with the job of embellishing the item. The primary duty cast upon the mridangist is to assist the dancer in establishing the context, theme, mood and aid in the audience joining the experience of ecstasy. Hence the playing should be in such a manner complimentary to the expressions, emotions and the movements of the dancer, states K S R Anirudha in his paper, ‘Nuances of Mridangam for dance’.
Anirrudha’s performance had been seen at ‘was way below standards and not impressive at all.’ A local cultural advocate stated, ‘our local dancers will give him run for his money.’
The Indian Government’s Consular office in Durban under the spotlight, again!
The festival has been dubbed a poor show of presentation by the international visiting artistes with criticism directed yet again to the Indian Consulate of Durban.
The Indian Consulate has been under fire for a series of mishaps in the past. In 2015, a protest by South Africans over the Indian Consulate’s position on charging a nominal fee for Tamil language lessons while Hindi remained free put the Indian government’s officials under the spotlight. Click here to read more
The decade old Shared History initiative has also been a sore discussion point with dwindling numbers in support from locals annually as the program did not encompass a shared relationship of South African Indian entertainment. Click here to read more
Another comment relating to the SAIDA launch project was that,
“It was probably a case of everyone got paid and everyone in this program got whatever opportunities they got in for, money, fame, and status. SO WHO CARES!”?
Jimmy Parthiben Moodley lamented on social media after he paid for tickets to attend this cultural feast, “I felt bad and really felt that this poor performance was an insult to SA artists. In the audience, we had seasoned local artists like mridangam specialist Sivanathan Naithan Pillay, flautist Kumaran Raman and dancers like Devandree , Shalini Raman , Krishni Balakisten, and of course Carnatic vocalist Pragalathan Vadivel and Magenthren Balakisten (and others) who had to endure this.
I am quite certain that members of SAIDA cannot truly say that they enjoyed Aniruddha’s programme. I am sure they did not know what they were getting into and I am very sure that they did not screen the artist. Well, if they did and endorse this then we have a very sorry state of affairs regarding Bharata Nathyam in SA.”
Indianspice contacted SAIDA officials for comment, it was noted that artistes paid their own way SAIDA helped with hospitality only. Jayesperi Moopen, a seasoned dance practitioner and on the SAIDA advisory panel stated, she was not too involved in this event but her role was just to support the initiative and she has full confidence in the dancers who organized the festival.
Verushka Pather has confirmed she will follow through with a response soon, the case of the attendees mentioned in this article was that they were invited on a complimentary basis to the festival.
The organization states that their directive of the SAIDA forum is to showcase the performing arts in SA, creating an awareness of South African Indian dance and also intending to spearhead on issues pertaining to funding, standardization, and recognition of Indian Heritage.
- The nuances of Mridangam for dance by K S R Anirudha